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Burma HRC Statement

Mr. President, we would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for his report on Burma and call for the extension of the mandate.

Mr. President, Human Rights Watch recognizes the signs of change and promises by Burma’s government to pursue political, economic, and social reforms since it took office in March 2011. We take note of the release of hundreds of political prisoners in 2011 and 2012 as a crucial first step.

The changes currently taking place in Burma are cause for optimism, but serious human rights concerns remain and must seize the attention of the Council. Nevertheless, the Burmese government continues to imprison hundreds of people for peaceful acts of free expression and association. We urge the international community to continue to push for their release. The Council should urge the Burmese government to agree to an independent international mechanism to access prisons and publicly report on the whereabouts and condition of remaining political prisoners. We furthermore call on the government to repeal long-standing laws that repress nonviolent political activity. A new law on freedom of assembly has fallen short of international standards. Legal reforms since March 2011 on contentious issues such as land reform and freedom of assembly so far have lacked transparency and community consultation.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about reports of ongoing serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in conflict zones in Burma.

The Burmese military continues to violate international humanitarian law by committing extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, beatings and pillage, and using abusive forced labor and antipersonnel landmines, particularly in Kachin, Shan, and Karen States. Ethnic armed groups have also been implicated in serious abuses, such as recruiting child soldiers and using antipersonnel landmines in civilian areas.

We ask the Burmese government to request the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an in-country presence. Human rights monitoring and protection issues should be a major part of any discussions between the government and ethnic minorities. An OHCHR in-country presence should have a standard protection, promotion, and technical assistance mandate. Such an office would access prisons and publicly report on detainees and conditions. It could also play a vital capacity-building role with the National Human Rights Commission, which was formed last year.

We call on the Council to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and support the call for the establishment of an OHCHR office in the country.

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